THE play-offs have not been overly kind to Nathan Clarke down the years.
His most recent taste came two seasons ago when, as Leyton Orient captain, he saw the club’s dreams of promotion to the Championship shattered in a penalty shoot-out defeat to Rotherham United.
Rewind to his 11 years at Huddersfield Town and, although his home-town club featured in no less than six of the promotion deciders during that time, Clarke missed the only two triumphs through injury (2004) and having been farmed out on loan to Bury (2012).
Of the other four, he started both semi-final legs against Barnsley in 2006 and came off the bench against Millwall at The Den four years later.
With such an unenviable record, Clarke, now at Bradford City, could have been forgiven for never wanting to see a play-off tie again. The opposite, however, is the case with the 32-year-old, who recently passed the landmark of 500 senior appearances, desperate to help the Bantams extend their season beyond May 8.
If City are to do just that, today’s encounter with fifth-placed Millwall at Valley Parade could be pivotal.
“Easter is still a massive weekend even though it is earlier than usual this year,” the Huddersfield-born defender told The Yorkshire Post ahead of a double-header against Millwall and Crewe Alexandra.
“We are more than looking forward to it. I know from my career how momentum can be such a big thing when trying to get into the play-offs.
“It is difficult to say how many are in the race for the play-offs, you could go quite a way down and make a case for each team.
“But what we can’t do is keep looking over our shoulder. The best thing for us is to focus on ourselves and make sure we get there by winning games.
“We are all desperate to get into the play-offs. In my career, I have been involved a few times and Orient was a bad one. It was settled by a penalty kick.
“One minute, you can see promotion in the distance but getting closer. Then, one penalty later, it is so far out of your reach. It is so cruel but that is football. It was the same when Huddersfield lost to Millwall (in 2010). We were probably a bit bullied down there in the second leg.
“In terms of Bradford, we just need to keep pushing and get ourselves in there. We have a squad that is more than capable.”
Clarke returned to Yorkshire last summer after three years in the capital with Orient. A desire to be reunited with his family, wife Lauren and their two young daughters having stayed up north, was behind his desire to leave Brisbane Road.
He endured a tough start, playing in the opening-day defeat at Swindon Town and then the shock Capital One Cup exit to York City before dropping out of the team.
It was not until mid-November that Clarke next started a league game but since then he has performed admirably whenever called upon.
Rory McArdle’s dislocated shoulder means he will today start his fourth consecutive league game, his joint best run in the team since joining the Bantams.
“The season started a bit frustratingly for me,” said Clarke, who has 21 league and Cup appearances to his name for the Valley Parade club. “But that is football. No-one is entitled to just walk into a team and take the jersey.
“I kept fighting and kept myself positive, making sure I would be fit enough when the chance came along. Hopefully, I have done that to, maybe not quite win the fans over, but get them on side and show them how much I want to help Bradford City.”
As for chalking up 501 appearances and counting in a career that began with a 2001 debut for the Terriers, Clarke added: “To get to such a number is a great achievement but I am nowhere near wanting to stop. The exact opposite, in fact. I want to kick on and play as many games as possible.
“I am loving my football. The family love me being back here, too. It was a great move career-wise to come to a club with this sort of fan base. That was great on its own.
“But my family are more than happy, too. I have got two little girls and it is nice to be part of my family again. I was coming back from London for the odd day and everything felt rushed.
“Now, though, I can watch them grow up. They are five and two so these are special times. It helps my game, too, to feel settled. You can focus all your energy on training and playing without distractions.”